Here’s how I-5 Interstate Bridge Replacement engineer says project will address climate change

View of I-5 going over Hayden Island and the Columbia River from north Portland.

While the effort to expand I-5 between Portland and Vancouver and replace the Interstate Bridge (a.k.a. the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program, or IBR) lumbers on, many questions remain about the $7.5 billion project — especially how it will impact Oregon’s greenhouse gas emission reduction goals.

A question on that topic came up during an exchange last month between a Portland cycling advocate and the project’s engineering manager. It was a notable back-and-forth that shows how project staff justify claims that the freeway megaproject will actually lower vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and won’t be terrible for the climate.

The exchange took place during a meeting of the PBOT Bicycle Advisory Committee on November 14th. It was between committee member David Stein and Casey Liles, engineering manager for the IBR. Their comments have been slightly edited for clarity.

David Stein:

“You spent a lot of time talking about climate change and addressing climate impacts, and yet, all of the potential [project] layouts involve even more lanes for cars and none actually are going to be studying the current set. And it doesn’t seem to jive with the large impact that transportation has on not only carbon emissions, but on other impacts like particulate matter that goes into the air and into into our waterways. There’s also the cost stewardship part that’s completely missed.

I’m really missing how this project is going to meaningfully address climate impacts when you’re talking about building more lanes for cars — auxiliary or otherwise, it’s still more lanes — and then surrounding transit with parking garages rather than housing and other buildings that would actually allow people to not have to drive… It just seems like there’s not even a good story to take out of this. And I’m wondering why we aren’t studying things that that might help to shrink the impact of this.”

Casey Liles:

“David,

The program Investment is estimated about $6 billion. A third of the investment for the program is transit and active transportation. A third. So the improvement of active transportation in this corridor is to connect over 60 miles of the light rail transit in the Portland metro to Vancouver, in which case there are three BRT [bus rapid transit] routes that are connecting to that light rail route.

I did mention the park-and-rides in Vancouver. [We] are studying the need for zero, one or two park-and-rides. I didn’t mention that. But that is a possibility — whether there’s maybe no park-and-rides rides in downtown, or up to two park-and-rides.

And again, the increase in ridership and mode share for transit and active transportation — that connection [between Portland and Vancouver] is not great today — you will see those benefits coming and published in the SDEIS [supplemental draft environmental impact statement, due for publication in early 2024].

As far as greenhouse gases go… One of the key elements of that is emissions from vehicular traffic. And one of the best ways to address that is getting people out of their single-occupant vehicles and getting them onto transit. I forgot to also mention the bus-on-shoulder that increases the express bus service into Portland. The other part of that is the treatment of all of the water in the five-mile corridor that is not treated today for freeway runoff. That treatment allows for getting the particulate out of the water runoff that is hazardous to fish and to the marine environment. Additionally, we expect that VMT goes down with the program… We would expect that, because we’re looking for a savings [in GHG emissions] due to that mode shift. 

Again, to go back to the investments in the program: Major investments in opportunities for people to use other modes than their single-occupant vehicle, as well as the safety and congestion. We’re taking accidents, and hopefully a lift-bridge, off of the freeway where you have that additional congestion or additional rates of accidents — and the additional people sitting in congestion spewing their emissions.

So, all of those things are a very large part of the program to improve the air quality in the area.”

The next big milestone for this project will be the release of the supplemental draft environmental impact statement (SDEIS, a document required as part of the federal National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA). Project staff say it’s due for release in early 2024.

If you’re hungry for information about this major project, the IBRP is hosting a public briefing tonight (Thursday, December 7th). The event is billed as a “virtual public briefing” and will take place online from 6:00 to 7:30 pm. Event details and sign-up link can be found here. There’s also a joint meeting of the Washington and Oregon legislative committees that oversee the project scheduled for December 15th.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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dw
dw
2 months ago

I’m sorry to be a cynic, but I wonder if building MAX to Vancouver is even worth it at all. Like, are people who have the option actually going to choose it?

Right now, with Thursday evening rush hour traffic, Google Maps is showing a 20 minute drive from the Rose Quarter to the Expo Center. The same trip takes 20 minutes via MAX. That’s during the worst case scenario for traffic congestion. When the congestion clears off-peak it’s an 8-10 minute drive. MAX still takes the same amount of time. That’s not even accounting for a probable bus transfer, walk, or bike ride on either end of the light rail trip.

So transit will still be the slowest and least convenient option. Maybe some new transit-oriented development will spur ridership, but that’s years or decades down the line. Maybe environmental- or budget-conscious folks will take it. It would certainly improve connectivity for existing transit users – which is not nothing. Personally, I’d use it because I like transit.

Most people are not me, though. Downtown offices are empty. The email-job consultant who goes in once a week will have no trouble finding and affording parking. Most folks are going out into the neighborhoods or suburbs to/from work, school, leisure, etc. No hassle or shortage of parking there.

Even if the ridership somehow did materialize, the whole system is hamstrung by glaring weaknesses. Getting the kind of ridership needed to make a dent in traffic would make the experience of using the train miserable. The Yellow line runs every 15 minutes and literally cannot run any more frequently because every MAX line has to crawl over the century-old Steel Bridge bottleneck. There’s no space for 3 or 4-car trains because of downtown block and existing station sizes. So you’re stuck riding a slow, dinky little tram, packed in with 100+ other people. That is if it shows up at all. Last week I waited 45 minutes for “Scheduled at X” Yellow line trains that never materialized, before I gave up and got an uber.

I don’t bring this all up to be a defeatist, but to highlight the political reality that transit projects are fighting an steep uphill battle, and spending $2 Billion+ to do this basically guarantees that the system won’t see investment ever again in our lifetimes. We’ve got plenty of electeds and pundits on the north side of the river ready to pounce on this “boondoggle empty trains to nowhere” idea, and plenty of idiots on the Oregon side who think that electric cars are the sole solution to all the problems caused by auto-centric policy.

We need to fix the Steel Bridge bottleneck. We need platforms that can accommodate longer trains. The people of this region deserve clean, reliable, frequent rail transit. There’s no way the funding for wider system improvements comes through if the public views the “One third” of the IBR project dollars as wasted on light rail that nobody uses.

It’s delusional to think that normal folks will choose to ride their bikes a mile and a half across the river next to infinite freeway lanes on whatever monstrosity of a bridge gets built.

Wouldn’t it make a ton more sense to just… run the shoulder-running busses more frequently? Shit, that could happen next month and would massively improve the lives of people who are already using transit without completely torpedoing any of the necessary improvements to MAX.

quicklywilliam
2 months ago
Reply to  dw

^ Comment of the week right here.

There is a long-standing, unspoken interest alignment between the state officials who build freeways and those who build transit. As long as the feds are paying for it*, everybody gets to have their cake and eat it too. The problem is, the whole idea of giving people “more options” doesn’t work when they already have a really easy cheap option (driving)**. The tortured, tap-dancing logic of this public official perfectly illustrates just how disconnected the “more options” game is from the goal of actually lowering GHG emissions. As advocates, I think it’s on us to stop playing along with this game and call out how wasteful and ineffective it is.

* Of course, the days of easy fed money for transit are mostly gone – but locally we are still stuck with the “more options” political machine. We saw Lynn Peterson try to keep this zombie alive with the failed metro bond. These days, everyone is pinning their hopes on the Inflation Reduction Act. I held my nose and voted for the metro bond, but now I hope they fail to bring home the bacon. Free federal money merely masks the fact that there is no political consensus to fund both road widening and transit. Moreover, those federal dollars should go to worthy projects that actually deliver on the goal of lowering GHG emissions!

** I don’t mean to suggest here that everyone has the option to drive! However, we’d make drastically different (and less capital intensive) investments if our goal was improving service for people who rely on transit.

Alex Bauman
Alex Bauman
2 months ago
Reply to  dw

Right, but the point of this project is to build a new, wider freeway without justification. So it makes sense politically to demand a transit component, even if that transit component doesn’t have a justification and will have a marginal impact on the system.

You’re right that the mega project the region really needs is one or more transit tunnels in the center city. While advocates should demand that, it wouldn’t politically work to defeat the I-5 widening because currently the narrative is that the latter is a bridge replacement project. First, the narrative needs to be established that it’s a highway widening project. Then the project can be killed.

J1mb0
J1mb0
2 months ago
Reply to  dw

This is how I feel about public transit as well. Our mode share is terribly dominated by car trips. In order to move the needle, we need more people to make the choice to use public transit instead of a car. That is is a major lifestyle change, given that most people have already been broken by traffic and are absolutely fine sitting in it. In order to convince them to take public transit instead, there needs to be a compelling reason. In most places where public transit is successful, taking public transit is faster and more reliable than taking a car. However, we already spent all of this money cutting up our city with freeways and sacrificed pretty much everything to prioritize the car trip time. We are actively blocked from removing any of it due to federal and state funding guidelines. And as long as MAX runs at effectively 7 MPH through downtown (2 miles from goose hollow max to convention center max / 0.28 hours) even cycling is faster. How are we talking about $$$ for IBR when speeding up MAX through downtown would be a far better project for our transportation system? That should be our #1 priority. That and replacing every single park and ride with actual development.

dw
dw
2 months ago
Reply to  J1mb0

Well said. I think a more prudent approach would be to divert that $2 billion into wider system improvements for TriMet and C-Tran. Stuff like bus lanes, signal priority everywhere, and track upgrades to increase MAX reliability. Much more frequent buses too. That’s the stuff that will 1)make life easier for those who already rely on transit and 2)get more people onto transit by making it more convenient for those who have a choice.

Let ODOT build their disgusting monument to the car-addict dinosaurs in charge who won’t be alive when it’s finished being built – with the caveat that one of the 70-foot shoulders is a dedicated busway, with the capacity to lay down light rail tracks in the future should the need arise.

If we make the small improvements that bring people onto the transit, we shift our mode share but also build a base of voters that are invested in transit continuing to get better.

blumdrew
2 months ago
Reply to  dw

I think the Yellow line has issues as a regional rapid transit line, but I think the extension still makes sense. RQ to Expo Center might be 30 minutes at peak traffic, but the real bottleneck is the bridge. I often see travel times between where I am in inner SE to Vancouver at an hour during peak times, something even a dinky Yellow line extension would compete with.

Of course, there is another rail transit option between Vancouver and Portland. One that takes like 15 minutes and utilizes already built infrastructure. But because our country has extremely useless rail policy, the chances of a fast regional train service on mainline rail tracks is somehow not feasible. There is no reason that we can’t run well-scheduled passenger and freight on the same corridor together (as 150 years of pre-Amtrak passenger rail in this country show) – it’s just the Class I railroads prefer to not have set schedules to “be more lean” or whatever “precision” “scheduled” railroading is all about.

dw
dw
2 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

Yes, regional rail is really what needs to happen. Trains running every 15-20 minutes from Vancouver – Salem would be seriously transformative for our region. The ROW already exists – but that would mean dealing with organizations even more monopolistic, ossified, and power-hungry than state highway departments – freight railroads.

Watts
Watts
2 months ago
Reply to  dw

How many people would take a train from Salem back to Portland if they then had to get home on transit? Even with fastish train service, for most Portlanders, driving would still be faster and cheaper than taking a train and dealing with transit on one or both ends of their train trip.

Setting up the train service you propose would be horrendously expensive, but is technically feasible. How much would it really be worth?

dw
dw
2 months ago
Reply to  Watts

I suppose there’s no way to know for sure without actually running the trains lol. I will say that it would open up more opportunities to those who don’t own cars or can’t drive because of age or disability. Maybe running frequent regional busses would be a more cost effective way to serve those folks and build ridership as an alternative to driving. I do think that many folks would be willing to spend a little extra time on transit to not have to deal with traffic. It’s nice to sit back and just read a book, play video games, or take a nap instead of being stressed out driving.

It’s kind of a chicken or the egg situation as far as local transit goes. If a lot of smaller communities had a connection to a frequent and reliable regional rail network, I bet that improvements to local transit would follow. I can see your point that subpar local transit makes it hard to imagine regional rail. “Yeah the train is fast but I have to spend twice as much time waiting for buses on either end.”

Building out a true regional rail system overnight is definitely a pipe dream. I think I’d rather see regular, incremental improvements to Amtrak Cascades frequency and reliability. Slowly but surely build dedicated trackage, remove level crossings, dispense with the bizzare and labor-intensive airline-boarding and ticketing model, etc.

Fred
Fred
2 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Watts, you are constantly pointing out what people might actually do or actually not do. I get it: human behavior is a huge component in any system. But the way our governments have built out the transportation network ensures that people are going to do the easiest, most logical thing, which is to DRIVE CARS in the present context.

If we are ever going to get people to change their behaviors and choose different modes, we’ve got to build different paths that are on a level with driving. I know, I know – so many rail projects have not lived up to the ease of driving. But could they? We really don’t know b/c they have never been as good. Everything in America is biased toward driving a car, and until that changes, people will choose to drive.

Watts
Watts
2 months ago
Reply to  Fred

If we are ever going to get people to change their behaviors and choose different modes, we’ve got to build different paths that are on a level with driving.

I agree with this, of course. What I was trying to point out is that buying/leasing the rail line and funding frequent heavy rail service to Salem is the easy part of the project. In order to make it work we also need to significantly upgrade transit around Portland (and probably Salem too) to make the whole trip work for the people who travel frequently between Salem and Portland.

Transit has a huge inherent disadvantage: it costs lots of time, and time is a valuable commodity to a lot of people. Frequent service can help, but any time you have a transfer, that costs time. Any time you stop the vehicle to let people on or off costs time. Our current model of transit is just slow (in most cases), and that can’t really be fixed. The fact that biking is faster than transit for many trips is just absurd; but it is, and it’s likely to remain so until we fundamentally rethink transit.

John V
John V
2 months ago
Reply to  dw

Not to disagree with the main ideas of your comment, but isn’t the point about adding light rail that this bridge is going to be the only new crossing for a century, and if they don’t put light rail on it they likely never will? Like, busses are fine but it guarantees that you will need to make at least one transfer to cross the river. How nice would it be to just ride a continuous train from point A to point B across the river? It’s the piecemeal bullshit among other things that makes transit terrible to use. Most places I look into taking a bus to, it’s two busses, each taking a reasonably short time but with a 10-15 minute transfer that makes it ridiculous.

And I’m not sure how you can square the “empty trains to nowhere” concern with “we need longer trains (because they’re too full)”.

Also, is it really the case that downtown / the steel bridge are a bottleneck to running more frequent trains? I don’t think I’ve ever seen trains back to back anywhere downtown or on the steel bridge, so clearly there is room to increase frequency.

Pkjb
Pkjb
2 months ago
Reply to  John V

Yes, the steel bridge is a major bottleneck in the system. In ideal conditions, you could run 50% more trains per hour than is currently possible if you eliminated the steel bridge and other friction points in the Max system:

https://www.wweek.com/news/2019/06/28/the-idea-for-max-tunnel-under-downtown-emerged-from-examination-of-how-to-fix-the-steel-bridge-bottleneck/

You’d still not have enough capacity to move all the people who commute on I-5 everyday, and you’d have persistent driver shortages and maintenance backlog issues that also impact max frequency and reliability. But the steel bridge is a major problem.

Fred
Fred
2 months ago
Reply to  John V

Sometime you should stand near the Steel Bridge and watch the MAX trains going over soooooo s-lo-w-l-y. They go about four miles an hour – you could almost walk faster. And that’s just one reason the Steel Bridge is such an impediment (add lifts, crashes with cars, people on the tracks etc etc).

John V
John V
2 months ago
Reply to  Fred

I understand that the trains go slowly over it. I used to cross twice a day every day a few years ago, so I’ve seen it. But going slow doesn’t translate to it being a bottleneck. I can stand there and not see any trains for 5-10 minutes at a time, which is enough time another train could have crossed. Or many for that matter. At 4 miles an hour it should still take only seconds to cross.

I get that it is a bottleneck to some extent, but there is still room to add more trains. I’m trying to understand if this is actually the reason we don’t have higher frequency or just an excuse.

Pkjb
Pkjb
2 months ago
Reply to  John V

Trimet holds trains back, slows them on the track, extends stays at stops, and reduces train scheduling below what the system could otherwise allow. You don’t see the bottleneck in action because the delays are distributed throughout the entire system to avoid having two trains following one behind the other.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
2 months ago
Reply to  Pkjb

UP owns the Steel Bridge, they use the lower track for regular trains, and quite likely they require TriMet MAX trains to go slow to extend the lifespan of the bridge – it’s over a century old. There might also be federal slow speed requirements as the trains crossing the other railroad bridges (Willamette south of St Johns and Columbia & Columbia Slough on Hayden Island) also move slow. All these bridges have some sort of lift spans. Only the Tillicum is “fixed”.

maxD
maxD
2 months ago
Reply to  Pkjb

Would replacing the steel bridge with a tunnel under the river and part of downtown speed things up? I have a hard time convincing my family members to take the MAX to replace a 10 minute drive with a 40-45 minute train ride. It is so damn slow!

Will
Will
2 months ago
Reply to  maxD

Undoubtedly yes. Current estimate is about 13 minutes of time savings going through downtown. Will depend somewhat on how many stops are consolidated.

Pkjb
Pkjb
2 months ago
Reply to  maxD

TriMet has said a tunnel would improve things. I’d like to hope that travel speeds would improve if you could get rid of the steel bridge and get the trains off of the street.

I think another big issue is that the max doesn’t go to the destinations that draw people in Portland. You can’t take the max to the heart of the division district, Hawthorne district, Alberta, Mississippi, nw 23rd, the Pearl… Even if the Max was fast, you’d still need to transfer to get to places that actually draw people in.

dw
dw
2 months ago
Reply to  John V

Not to disagree with the main ideas of your comment, but isn’t the point about adding light rail that this bridge is going to be the only new crossing for a century, and if they don’t put light rail on it they likely never will?

My point is that while we may get a crossing from Vancouver to North Portland this century, there will be no political will to improve any other aspect of the system. So we’ll have shiny new light rail tracks to Vancouver while the rest of the system languishes.

And I’m not sure how you can square the “empty trains to nowhere” concern with “we need longer trains (because they’re too full)”.

Maybe I wasn’t clear in my writing. What I meant was, the likely outcome is nobody rides it. Any proposal to build more transit or improve existing transit will never receive funding because extending the Yellow line across the river is viewed as a waste of money, ergo literally any transit project is a waste of money. “Why do they want to build more useless trains when everybody is stuck in traffic?”

Even if the riderships does magically appear, getting enough people out of cars and onto the trains would make the actual lived experience of riding the train terrible. Ever been on a really cramped subway train in a big city? It sucks.

Watts
Watts
2 months ago
Reply to  John V

“How nice would it be to just ride a continuous train from point A to point B across the river?”

Probably very nice. But unless you happen to live along the LRT line and are going to downtown Portland, you are not going to enjoy a continuous train ride (if “enjoy” can even be applied to Max).

“Most places I look into taking a bus to, it’s two busses, each taking a reasonably short time but with a 10-15 minute transfer that makes it ridiculous.”

That’s why I contend our 19th century model of fixed route, fixed schedule transit is fundamentally broken in our 21st century world.

aquaticko
aquaticko
2 months ago
Reply to  Watts

So strange how in every other developed country, they manage to make it work for roughly a quarter of all trips in metro areas Portland’s size (more for even larger cities; less-but-still-more-than-present PDX for smaller ones).

Maybe if we stopped following a 19th century vision of what 20th century cities were going to look like, we could finally start moving into an actually-novel 21st century.

Fred
Fred
2 months ago
Reply to  aquaticko

I agree. Watts says the fixed route, fixed schedule paradigm is broken, but maybe it’s just the way we are doing it that is wrong.

If we gave priority to bikes on transit, for example, then point-to-point could work great b/c you could bike to any close point and then get off any close point and bike to your destination. But no transit system in the US prioritizes bikes on transit; in fact Trimet and most other transit agencies view bikes as unwelcome distractions from their real mission. And they stop every couple of hundred feet, which makes journeys painfully slow.

So yes – transit is perfectly optimized to get the results it is currently getting. But if we did transit differently, it would have different results.

Watts
Watts
2 months ago
Reply to  Fred

If we gave priority to bikes on transit, for example

Bikes on TriMet already works pretty well (especially since, post pandemic, bus racks are usually available). But you still have the vagaries of transit, which, as you pointed out, still has to stop frequently, slowing service, sometimes significantly.

if we did transit differently, it would have different results.

I completely agree with you, and this is the point I keep making. We know that the transit we’re currently running doesn’t work particularly well. We need to do something different. We are, fortunately, developing ways to provide more on-demand, more point-to-point transit models that make travel faster and more convenient. Automated vehicles will, I believe, completely change the paradigm of how urban transportation works, and will open the doors to the types of transformation that many here advocate for (reduced urban parking, smaller, cleaner vehicles, safer street environment, etc.)

And, unlike most of the things people here propose, automation is very likely to actually happen.

J1mb0
J1mb0
2 months ago

I still don’t get it. If we expect VMT to drop due to increase in modal share, then we can take away lanes. Why are we adding them?

Also, this bus-on-shoulder thing seems stupid. Just dedicate a lane for buses.

Michael
Michael
2 months ago
Reply to  J1mb0

The unspoken truth is that they don’t actually expect VMT to drop. They know that their traffic projection models don’t work, break after 5 or 10 years, and anyway aren’t actually accurate to what actually occurs in any alternative scenario. They’re adding lanes because they think they need to alleviate congestion both now and decades in the future.

Also, “something something safety.”

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
2 months ago
Reply to  Michael

If the Metro 2040 plan works like it’s projected to, both overall and per capita VMT should drop anyway, no matter what is done, and that assumption is probably built into their modelling. Build a 100-lane bridge or none at all, VMT will drop. People will drive less as they’ll live closer together and closer to their jobs and amenities and use public transit and bicycle more. There will be a better jobs housing balance. The Easter Bunny is real. Santa Clause will come to town. The Israelis and Palestinians will live like one big happy family. Congress will pass a balanced budget. Everyone will vote. The world will end at midnight, 12:30 Newfoundland.

Ross Williams
Ross Williams
2 months ago
Reply to  Michael

They are adding lanes to increase auto use because they are in the auto business. The political support for more and bigger roads is only marginally from road users. The big players are the highway construction industry. Without their lobbying muscle, ODOT would have to fight for its budget with all the other needs for public spending. If you stop building big projects those companies find other business or disappear along with their equipment and expertise.

Alex Bauman
Alex Bauman
2 months ago
Reply to  J1mb0

Shoulders already are a lane for buses. Shoulders are needed anyway as a safety feature but can be safely used by buses when there’s congestion in the main stem. They’ve been safely and effectively used as such in cities around the country for decades. It would be wasteful to build a bus lane and shoulders and there is no way they’ll build this without shoulders (nor should they).

The more valid question is how much express bus service is needed parallel to an LRT line. Undoubtedly one will cannibalize the ridership of the other.

I agree with your point about VMT though. We know that this project will increase VMT because lane additions always do. It is a dereliction of the engineer’s professional obligation to pretend otherwise.

Robert Wallis
Robert Wallis
2 months ago
Reply to  Alex Bauman

I thank you for the “dereliction of the engineer’s professional obligation”. Adding freeway lanes is terrible engineering. Spinning a freeway expansion as helping to reduce VMT’s is unethical.

Let's Active
Let's Active
2 months ago
Reply to  Robert Wallis

IBR will say that these are auxiliary lanes, not new thru lanes. So they are adding the lanes for safety of merging and transitioning at the interchanges. They are not adding capacity to the freeway. Still three thru lanes only to match what is south of the project area in Portland.

Pkjb
Pkjb
2 months ago
Reply to  Let's Active

They will say that, sure. But it ignores the fact that extended auxiliary lanes and merging areas that extend for multiple miles will increase the throughput capacity of the entire freeway because all lanes will flow more smoothly during peak congestion. Even when I-5 inevitably returns to a fully congested condition between 1-5 years after project completion, after people have adjusted travel habits, changed jobs, or moved in recognition of the change in transportation conditions generated by the additional freeway lanes, more cars will be able to cross the bridge at gridlock speeds than were able to cross in the pre build condition. They wouldn’t build aux lanes if they didn’t add capacity. It’s not like the I-5 bridge is a particularly deadly stretch of road compared to other high crash areas in the greater Portland metro. Their claims of safety improvements are fig leafs for expected marginally faster car speeds at times of peak congestion.

J1mb0
J1mb0
2 months ago
Reply to  Pkjb

Exactly. the shoulder serves a purpose beyond being a lane for travel. When accidents occur, which is almost ALL of the time, the shoulder is where they go. I see cars just sitting in the shoulder almost every time I hit a major freeway. It is so common we spent all that money to build those shoulders, and now buses are back to being stuck in the same traffic as cars. Bus on shoulder being “successfully” used in the USA doesn’t say anything – the state of public transit is pretty bad. How about this? Open the shoulder for cars and take a lane for busses.

Let's Active
Let's Active
2 months ago
Reply to  Pkjb

Exactly. Safety in the reduction of fender benders/minor crashes and improved traffic flow on the thru lanes. Pricing, meanwhile, will introduce incentive for some (minor %) to use other modes, decreasing congestion in the area

blumdrew
2 months ago
Reply to  Let's Active

Adding auxiliary lanes is adding capacity. Even if they are just doing so by removing that previously merge/transition traffic, that still results in added capacity in the existing thru lanes.

Art Lewellan
Art Lewellan
2 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

The existing I-5 bridge is 2-lanes acting as 3-lanes without a shoulder; a safety shortcoming that shouldn’t be ignored. The bridge design I support is “single-deck” as depicted in 2007 renderings. The 2009 decision to go with double-deck makes no sense. Single-deck river clearance is around 135′ in the central high point about 10′ more than the Coast Guard standard of 125′ established in 2012. The RR bridge will need a central lift to match, but that expense is offset with savings on the new I-5 bridge.

I support a 5-lane northbound, 4-lane southbound and a 3-lane transit ped span furthest west per the 2007 renderings. The 5th lane north is needed because the exits to SR14 east and downtown Vancouver are too close together. The 4-lane south span is manageable because morning traffic is less congested than afternoon traffic.

The single-deck design also affects access to Hayden Island. I’d eliminate the proposed central underpass because the southbound exit must first clear this underpass at a higher elevation (about 10′) and the off-ramp is steeper and ‘blind’ in that many motorists won’t see the ramp before they hit it at top speed.

Here too, ODOT is putting traffic safety last on their list of metrics that determine merit. In an accident on the new bridge, MAX light will come to a halt, but buses could steer around stopped emergency vehicles. Putting the transit/ped corridors on the lower deck denies the safety feature of an emergency access corridor. “We don’t need no stickin’ murgency access corridor” snarls truckers who also demand the 3rd central underpass…. Yeah, it’s a mess all right. And neither state DOT agency were held accountable for lousy bridge design in 2013 when the last iteration of this project had to be stopped.

X
X
2 months ago
Reply to  Alex Bauman

Who thinks that routinely operating transit buses on shoulders is safe? It seems like an expedient. If shoulders aren’t needed on highways, why are they built anywhere?

What do bus drivers think about this? I can believe that professional drivers are more skilled and attentive but it still seems like a significant workplace issue.

Fred
Fred
2 months ago
Reply to  X

Not me. The shoulder is often called “the break-down lane” for a reason. And the guidance to drivers after a fender-bender is to “move to the breakdown lane.” The lane will be blocked so often that having buses depend on it as a dedicated thruway just seems foolhardy.

JR
JR
2 months ago
Reply to  J1mb0

I don’t think this bridge needs to get even wider and increase project costs even more. Bus-on-shoulder makes excellent use of valuable road space.

blumdrew
2 months ago

The program Investment is estimated about $6 billion. A third of the investment for the program is transit and active transportation. A third.

Okay, even if we don’t interrogate this number, it’s still $4 Billion for more car infrastructure. If we were to interrogate the $6 billion (which is on the low end of what I’ve seen for this project) and the 2/3rds number, I would anticipate that many of the choices that the IBR team made lead to far higher costs for the MAX extension. This is a relatively common practice for capital intensive transit projects, and is part of why the SW Corridor plan is so pricey. Because ODOT won’t allow a single lane-mile of state highway to be reduced, Metro/TriMet would have to basically pay for an entirely new right of way. Light rail to Vancouver would be trivially inexpensive it it re-used the newer of the Interstate Bridges. We could also talk about how ODOT consistently underestimates costs on freeway projects, while most of the MAX system has been built on time and under budget (with an exception for the Westside line which had difficulties tunneling under the west hills).

So sure, it’s a big investment in terms of money into transit and active transportation – but that is only necessary because of specific choices made by the IBR team, choices which they are under no obligation to make.

And if they really think VMT will go down because of this project, why are they adding lanes to the bridge? That is a surefire way to increase VMT – since increased vehicle capacity always means increased vehicle use.

Kiel Johnson / Go By Bike
Kiel Johnson (Go By Bike)
2 months ago

Does anyone know a list of consulting firms who could evaluate these claims? Seems well worth it to have one or two outside firms give their general take on if what ODOT is saying is true.

Babygorilla
Babygorilla
2 months ago

Is the argument from the engineer essentially that new transit options will induce increased demand for transit that will more than offset the increase in single vehicle usage rates? Much more complicated, obviously, but the underlying principle is pretty basic when you factor in population increases and aim to decrease per capita VMT in single vehicle usage.

SD
SD
2 months ago

ODOT makes these statements, but their results are consistently an increase in VMT. If ODOT wanted to decrease VMT, they should make that an explicit goal of their designs. This sounds like more ODOT double speak- we will decrease VMT by expanding VMT capacity, we will decrease emissions by increasing VMT, we will restore the vibrancy of a community we destroyed, by building freeway off-ramps that are decorated by a few buildings and trees. Wishful thinking at best.

Dirk
Dirk
2 months ago

I wonder if they include construction activities in their claim of reduced emissions…

How many will suffer and die?
How many will suffer and die?
2 months ago
Reply to  Dirk

include construction activities in their claim of reduced emissions

The no-build option is the only option compatible with climate justice.

Ross Williams
Ross Williams
2 months ago

ODOT claimed that widening I5 at Lombard was gong to reduce traffic and emissions, including reducing congestion at the Rose Quarter. You see how that actually worked out. There is no guarantee that extra buses will reduce traffic. What often drives people to take the bus is congestion. So until the traffic increases to fill all those lanes there won’t be any significant increase in transit use.

Better transit service can move the needle for some people. But that isn’t going to prevent the traffic lanes from being full.

Fred
Fred
2 months ago

Sounds like Casey the engineering manager is essentially saying:

“We’re building into the project a lot of opportunities for people to ride a bike or take transit if they want. We have no idea whether people will actually change their behavior but we hope they will. Now you climate-activist people need to shut up and let us get on with building this mega-bridge with added lanes for cars and trucks.”

Why is it so hard for them to say EXACTLY what will happen in each scenario? Can’t you take a car leaving Vancouver, driving to Portland, sitting in traffic for x minutes and total up the CHG emissions? Every car NOT on the highway reduces emissions by the amount of that car. That’s what they should measure.

If cars are NOT on the highway, then they don’t need to build those extra lanes.

Pkjb
Pkjb
2 months ago

The academic and economic literature is pretty clear that increasing freeway lane miles will increase single occupancy vehicle use. The added capacity of additional lane miles will allow for the addition of more single occupancy cars per hour coming across the Columbia than the number of individuals that can travel per hour on the Max. Even if everyone really wanted to ride transit, the Max is too slow, small, and infrequent to carry them all.

As others have noted, people who have a choice to drive will do so as long as it is cheaper, faster and more convenient than taking transit. The Max is slow, relatively low capacity, and the stations on the Vancouver side will be located in the middle of a freeway. Once across into Portland, the transfers between the max and other bus and Max lines are not good. I can almost always bike to a destination more quickly than I can get there by transit in Portland. You can’t expect people to drive to a park and ride, get out of their car, and wait for a train when they could just as easily continue driving onto the freeway.

Art Lewellan
Art Lewellan
2 months ago
Reply to  Pkjb

“Light rail can be called an anti-commute system.” In other words, because commute systems create more demand for commuting than they can handle – with the growing demand to be served only possible by driving – light rail systems (combined with integrated bus feeder lines) can spur development that reduces the need for commuting.

Consider why the Bay Area BART (light rail) system ridership has plummeted since the pandemic. During rush hours, 10-car BART trainsets were standing room only, yet area freeways were (and still are) clogged with traffic. Off-rush hours, BART ran 4-car trainsets about 25% of capacity. Today, BART is planning to run 4-car trainsets at all hours because of the lack of riders. What went wrong? Well, the demand for commuting there continues to grow.

That said, I do not support MAX on the new bridge. For specific safety reasons, an extension of the Vancouver BRT line to Hayden Island where it would junction with an extension of the MAX line from Expo Center to its terminus at this Hayden Island junction with BRT to Vancouver. Light rail should not be designed as a commute system.

Pkjb
Pkjb
2 months ago
Reply to  Art Lewellan

I disagree with all of your points. Commuter rail is highly effective in most mid size and major cities around the world. American cities suffer from poor land use planning that is needed to make rail based transit effective. We over produce parking in commercial centers and employment areas, and we don’t build enough housing density in rail station areas.

The problem with the proposed yellow line expansion is all of the new station areas will be in freeway right of way, which makes good transit oriented development neigh impossible. If the rail alignment wasn’t the middle of the freeway and larger trains could be run with greater frequency, I would strongly support lrt expansion.

Chris
Chris
2 months ago
Reply to  Pkjb

Apartment and office buildings are currently being built where the yellow line was originally going to enter Vancouver. CTran’s version of BRT is running on the downtown streets where MAX was originally to run and design work will soon be starting on a third BRT line to run up Highway 99. I don’t see how a MAX line that won’t be expanded out of the downtown core can spur development. It would probably end up using developable land for park-and-ride lots.

One large hole in the planning is how operations of the MAX extension will be paid for. I believe CTRAN, much like Trimet, has said they are not able to pay funds to an out-of-state transit organization. CTRAN can and does pay to operate bus lines into Portland. Trimet has said they will not pay for operations of MAX beyond the existing EXPO station. It will be interesting to see how the project qualifies for federal funds when there is no plan in place to pay for operations.

Pkjb
Pkjb
2 months ago
Reply to  Chris

When ‘transit oriented development’ is built in the Portland metro area, it’s typically foour five stories tall, at most. Not really achieving the density you need to make transit a viable regional transportation mode that can compete with cars. Also, the mid freeway alignment of station areas means that you have to position the buildings further away from the stops than would be optimal, and even then, you are still building housing in areas with high levels of air, noise, and particulate pollution. Not good.

Art Lewellan
Art Lewellan
2 months ago
Reply to  Chris

Chris, consider a list of 6 basic metrics that determine merit and support for any light rail proposal. First on the list is Public Safety, then Public Health, environmental impact, gains in transit patronage, development potential and lastly costs (planning, construction, operations, finance) after the other more important metrics meet reasonable standards.

When costs lead discussion, the other metrics are disregarded or otherwise hidden from public consideration. MAX can and should extend to a Hayden Island “terminus” on the Oregon side of the border in the middle of the Columbia River. From Hayden Island, an extension of the Vancouver BRT to Vancouver is more ideal than a MAX line on the new bridge.

This transfer LRT to BRT has to be made convenient. Inconvenient transfers from LRT to most bus routes is a key reason why transit does not deter automobile dependency. The MAX system has 72 stations but only 14 transit centers where planned transfers from MAX to bus lines occur but only inconveniently.

Art Lewellan
Art Lewellan
2 months ago
Reply to  Pkjb

Well Pkjb, I agree with some but not all of your points nor some made by Chris. US cities certainly suffer from poor land use development patterns. Planners today tout “mixed-use infill transit-oriented development” but lead discussion with “high-density housing” which is a sorely incomplete mix of uses. Chris mentions the proposed earlier MAX route through downtown Vancouver streets which is more ideal than along the embankment of I-5.

For discussion sake, assume the new I-5 bridge should be “single-deck” (not double-deck) with a 3-lane transit/ped span furthest west connected to a 4-lane southbound span. This transit corridor offers emergency access to save lives in major accidents. In the years 2004-2008, bridge designs were single-deck. Strictly double-deck design came in 2009 for no good reason I can fathom. The 4th lane southbound becomes an exit ramp to Hayden Island and Marine Drive. The southbound span is basically 3-lanes (same as today) with a shoulder lane for emergency stops (but not for a bus lane).

A 5-lane northbound span is also 3-lanes (for thru-travel) with 2-lanes (plus a shoulder) for exits to SR14 and downtown Vancouver. The real culprit in the bridge design are ODOT/WsDOT directors who answer only to powerful car-related business interests who do not want transit to function adequately.

Criminal distortion of the planning process dates to 1993-1998 when Tri-Met was planning its N/S MAX extension to Vancouver. Voters rejected the N/S MAX extension in 1998 because of its many objectionable impacts, especially through North Portland where it was located along the I-5 embankment (ODOT domain). As an advocate for light rail, I urged Metro and City Council to go back to the drawing board and within 6 months! the route was removed from ODOT jurisdiction to Interstate Ave which reduced impacts, costs and was proven to be more productive.

Pkjb
Pkjb
2 months ago
Reply to  Art Lewellan

High density housing with commercial uses on the ground floor or lower four stories is optimal land use. Period.

qqq
qqq
2 months ago
Reply to  Pkjb

Sometimes it’s optimal, other times not.

Art Lewellan
Art Lewellan
2 months ago
Reply to  Pkjb

I’ve lived in a Pearl District apartment for 18 years. As the Pearl developed, traffic went from manageable to insane. Rents went from high to exorbitant. The homeless crisis worsened especially near my place close to Union Station. Bud Commons and Multnomah County services near Amtrak and Greyhound present visitors with troublesome and desperate situations. Welcome to Portland! Please don’t feed the homeless!

Sidewalk storefront commercial uses here are real estate offices, beauty salons, banks, coffee joints, fast food and pricey restaurants. Nearby Safeway I can walk to, but many cannot carrying grocery bags. Fred Meyers and hospitals are a half hour away via transit. This is not a complete mix of uses. Period.

What many people learn from our “esteemed” planners is that their priority is to serve absentee landlord rental property, especially high density. The more renters and the more homeless, the more they can jack up the rent according to the unquestionable rule of Supply & Demand. Maybe you should think about it?

Pkjb
Pkjb
2 months ago
Reply to  Art Lewellan

The Pearl is poorly served by transit. It is not anywhere close to transit oriented development. And a lot of the Pearl has poor pedestrian facilities and unactivated ground floor spaces.

qqq
qqq
2 months ago
Reply to  Pkjb

It’s odd seeing the Pearl District described as not being transit-oriented development, because the whole idea behind it was that people living there wouldn’t need transit, because they’d be living within walking distance of jobs, shopping, entertainment, parks, etc.

Art L. sums things up pretty well in his comment above. Housing with ground-floor commercial was built, but the uses residents need didn’t move into them.

Pkjb
Pkjb
2 months ago
Reply to  qqq

You have to assume people are going to travel outside of the neighborhood both for work and recreation. Ergo, there must be good, frequent transit options that are in close proximity, otherwise people will choose to drive. Most of the Pearl is not within a half mile walk shed of a Max stop. You have to assume people there are going to drive for a lot of their trips due to the neighborhood layout.

The Dog and the Wife
The Dog and the Wife
2 months ago
Reply to  Pkjb

The Pearl, while soulless, has the Orange/Yellow line, the transit mall, the Street Car, is within walking distance of the Red and Blue Lines (and much of downtown), and walking there is easy. There are inactivated ground floor spaces everywhere.

Pkjb
Pkjb
2 months ago

I don’t consider the street car to be a real transit option. It’s so slow that it is only really suitable for replacing walking trips in the neighborhood. The yellow/orange line crosses outside of the Pearl district. It is only easily accessible to the eastern third of the neighborhood. The rest of the Pearl is outside of the station walk shed.

Art Lewellan
Art Lewellan
2 months ago
Reply to  Pkjb

The streetcar is fast enough for anyone who isn’t in a frantic hurry. They are as fast as a bus on similar routes. The streetcar option arose in the 1990’s when the N/S MAX extension controversy forced agencies to get real. The N/S was to run on Harrison Street and diagonally through the PSU Urban Center and 2-track through the next block to Harrison St. Today’s Lincoln Street route 4 blocks south is more ideal, less impact, smoother gradient, 2 more stations to guide TOD. Streetcar is still limited, but serves well in some settings. I support the extension to Montgomery Park, but not to Hollywood to serve developers who’ll bulldoze everything along that route for high density housing compounds.

blumdrew
2 months ago

The Pearl technically ends at Broadway, and has none of the transit mall or MAX stops directly in it. Sure, it’s a block away but feel like that’s worth throwing out there anyways. Lovejoy/12th, in the heart of the Pearl, is a full mile from the nearest Red/Blue MAX stop.

I say this because I think the Pearl is strangely not well served by transit, especially the areas further west and north. There is basically no bus service outside the 77 on Everett/Glisan, the 20 on Burnside, and the streetcar is pretty slow and doesn’t connect well to the rest of the transit system. It’s the densest part of the entire state, having a few streetcars and one bus quality bus route (no shade to the 77 – it will be great when it gets more service) just doesn’t really cut it imo.

Art Lewellan
Art Lewellan
2 months ago
Reply to  Pkjb

Baloney. I’ve lived in the Pearl 18 years and diligently worked to make the initial N/S streetcar and Loop lines happen. Transit service is better than average as are pedestrian facilities and ground floor spaces. I support the extension to Montgomery Park, but not to Hollywood. Instead, I’d run the new MP line across the Broadway Bridge then to the MAX stop at OMSI where it would reverse direction as it did for many years and still can. This would double streetcar service through inner eastside.

The Dog and the Wife
The Dog and the Wife
2 months ago
Reply to  Art Lewellan

As the Pearl developed, traffic went from manageable to insane.

It’s worth noting that the Pearl has some of the best transit access in the city, and is a very high density and walkable neighborhood.

blumdrew
2 months ago
Reply to  Pkjb

What about industrial uses? What about schools? What about parks? What about land required for transportation? What about offices? What about farming? What about forests? What about light manufacturing?

Optimal land use is always context dependent.

blumdrew
2 months ago
Reply to  Art Lewellan

BART (light rail)

Now I’ve seen it all. BART is not light rail! It’s like a commuter/regional – metro hybrid. It is completely grade separated! It has no tram-like features!

Also I don’t think BART is running 4 car trains, I’ve definitely never seen anything other than an 8 or 10 car train on BART any time I’ve visited, and I’ve definitely ridden BART in shoulder hours. And since all the platforms are long enough to accommodate ten car trains, there isn’t really a need to run 4 car trains. It’s not like that reduces labor costs, and the marginal maintenance cost is trivial. BART had trains that lasted like 50 years in revenue service.

BART ridership has plummeted since the pandemic because it’s a radial system centered on downtown San Francisco, and commuting to downtown San Francisco is far less of a big deal than it was in 2019.

Art Lewellan
Art Lewellan
2 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

Technically, BART trainsets are light rail. They are lightweight, “light” in terms of weight. They run all day in both directions unlike commuter-rail which runs during morning and evening rush hours. It’s fair to call BART regional rail but their trainsets are only different from typical light rail in terms of capacity and grade separation. MAX can be called regional rail and other light rail systems (Honolulu HART) are also grade separated.

Recently I read that BART management is indeed considering shortening them from 10-car to 4-car trainsets because of dwindling ridership. Over the years, they were standing room only during rush hours and underutilized off-rush hours and in the reverse commute direction.

Lovejoy at NW 12th is 5 blocks north of Hoyt and 6 blocks west of the NW 6th Ave MAX stop. That’s 1 block more than half a mile. The streetcar stops are within 3 blocks of Lovejoy and 12th. Why walk the longer distance to a Red/Blue MAX stop?

JM
JM
2 months ago

Light rail is great, but we also need commuter rail and express buses that run 7 days a week. Light rail will be the local option to get to destinations in North Portland.

X
X
2 months ago

‘We expect vehicle miles traveled to go down because that assumption underlies our calculation that the project will reduce greenhouse gases.’

This is just hand waving. “And then a miracle occurs.”

Pkjb
Pkjb
2 months ago
Reply to  X

Step one: build rail
Step two: run trains
Step three: profit

SolarEclipse
SolarEclipse
2 months ago
Reply to  Pkjb

The only “profit” for the under-performing MAX trains is what the construction companies and property owners will make. It sure isn’t about climate change, reducing car usage, getting citizens to where they need to be dependably, or any of the other excuses they use to justify building them.

blumdrew
2 months ago
Reply to  SolarEclipse

By what mechanism would building the MAX increase property values (which developers and owners capitalize on) if it didn’t provide use to people near it?

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
2 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

Apologies to Pkjb:

Step one: build rail

Step two: say we’ll be running trains sometime in the near future, even if it never happens
Step three: profit based on perception and PR

Building new rail (of any sort, even guided BRT) is the Viagra of the development community – it gets certain kinds of people excited, they quickly build phallic-shaped office buildings and apartments on speculation, such as those in Portland Oregon (and DC, Charlotte, Atlanta, NYC, etc etc.)

If you are looking for logical cause-and-effect science, there is none involved, just a lot of history of men (it’s mostly men for obvious egotistical reasons) doing it and making lots of money on it.

aquaticko
aquaticko
2 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

…I’m sorry, but you’re grouping NYC and DC with Atlanta, Charlotte, and Portland?

NYC’s rail systems–shoddy and 2nd rate though they are compared with its global competitors (London, Paris, Tokyo, Seoul)–still manage to move nearly 2 billion people a year. Even DC’s system–with its awful interlining in city-center, poor coverage, rapid spread into car-dependent suburban sprawl, and distinct lack of “phallic-shaped office buildings and apartments”–is typically comfortably over 100 million.

Atlanta, Charlotte, Portland, and most other American cities have not developed in dense, coherent ways beyond a couple of downtown blocks; tons of space in/around their downtowns is still dedicated to parking garages, or even surface parking. It’s specifically that fact that leads to poor ridership. Hell, even if you want a “phallic” downtown/suburban sprawl city that does get good rail ridership, Calgary exists; CTrain can work specifically because it has a “phallic” downtown which doesn’t accommodate cars.

That is what Portland–and other American cities–need to focus on: getting cars out of their downtowns, and bringing jobs (and housing) back in their place. Rail is what makes that trade work.

Watts
Watts
2 months ago
Reply to  aquaticko

The way Portland has developed makes transit less useful than it might be had we developed in other ways. Transit is only one tool in the transportation tool shed, and it does not work well for Portland’s post COVID transportation needs which are less focused on downtown than they were pre-pandemic.

We don’t need to rebuild our city to serve transit, we need to rethink transit to serve us.

aquaticko
aquaticko
2 months ago
Reply to  Watts

You keep saying this, and I’m always left wanting for new ideas of what “rethinking transit” means.

Autonomous taxis? Not in our lifetimes, and it’s a horrendously inefficient and expensive way of doing it if it ever becomes feasible, anyway. “Micro” transit? Dial-a-shuttle-type services? That’s just a concession that transit–actual, mass transit that moves a meaningful percentage of people–won’t work in your city. E-scooters, or some other e-bike placebo? No one’s taking those for more than a few miles; rail (or even bus) is what bridges the gap between those last miles we do on two wheels (or on foot).

Logically, there are two ways to move people over medium-to-long distances: individually or in groups. As someone else has said before, individual transportation–cars, by any other name–is great at getting you where no one else wants to go. As soon as you start getting enough people in one place, you need to make it feasible to move people in groups; too much chaos is possible if everyone has their own omnidirectional, high-speed motorized transport, hence congestion.

Even at Portland’s low-density sprawl, cars are just suboptimal. We’ve historically fixed this by sprawling even more; the end-game of that is essentially the death of a city by diffusion. Meanwhile, however long you keep the game going, you lose all the economic benefits of agglomeration; both production and consumption are more efficient if they’re done in concentration (to a point, obviously).

We Americans have, by and large, built our cities wrong. It’s not a happy truth, but a truth it remains, just the same.

Watts
Watts
2 months ago
Reply to  aquaticko

always left wanting for new ideas of what “rethinking transit” means

Automation is one big transformation that is coming. Smaller vehicles, with dynamic on-demand routing might be another.

That’s just a concession that transit–actual, mass transit that moves a meaningful percentage of people–won’t work in your city.

For longer trips with fewer stops, LRT trains can work, and may well be a good solution for heavily used routes (a quick connection between Gateway and downtown, for example, or Hillsboro and Portland).

But for shorter trips, we’ve seen that it doesn’t work particularly well. How many more decades do we need to keep trying?

We Americans have, by and large, built our cities wrong. 

This may well be true, but it is how we’ve built our cities nonetheless, and we have to deal with that reality. We’re not going to unbuild them.

Moving in groups is great if you have a lot of people in one place that need to go to the same other place at the same time. That pattern is not that common in today’s Portland, which is one reason we can’t get a critical mass of folks to use transit.

We need to find a system that works with large numbers of small groups going to and from different places at different times.

aquaticko
aquaticko
2 months ago
Reply to  Watts

I have no idea what still makes you think automated robotaxis are in any way “coming”. Even in two of the places in the world most likely to make them work, they’re at least as far away now as they were 15 years ago:

San Francisco revoked Cruise’s driverless operation rights in October. I.e., one of the most tech-centered metro economies in the world just told a startup owned by one of the world’s largest vehicle manufacturers (GM) that its technology was too dangerous to use as intended.In South Korea–i.e., one of the most tech-centered countries in the world, one with a much, much greater administrative capabilities, and much more reliance on: Hyundai (another one of the world’s largest vehicle manufacturers), that company also just announced a delay in its Level 3 (i.e., not even “eyes off” capable) autonomous vehicles.P.S. That type of delay, by the way, is probably the most common one among autonomous vehicle producers: indefinite. Autonomous robotaxis are the fusion power of the transportation industry: always 50 years away, except worse, because we actually do have working fusion reactors, just none that make more power than they consume. Even in confined test environments, e.g. automatic braking systems have been shown to be unreliable. The carnage we’ve been able to chalk up to “human error” behind the wheel is not a liability any sane automaker is going to take on just so we don’t actually have to drive ourselves.

As I said before, the problem with car-centric urban/suburban design is that even at low-density levels of development, they’re just too space inefficient, and essentially too mobile for how space inefficient they are, to not cause congestion and be less efficient than just building densely enough for transit to work. That latter, by the way, is a “problem” we’ve had solved for literal millennia before cars came along and made it one.

The solution to the problem that cars have caused–that no one wants to need to drive everywhere for everything–that doesn’t just obviate the daily need for cars for the majority of people is, thus far, just wishful thinking. Waiting for the tech genie to save is just not justifiable.

Cities have never, ever been built once. We’ve been building and rebuilding them for all of recorded history. There’s no need to pretend that we can’t now.

Pkjb
Pkjb
2 months ago
Reply to  Watts

American cities have already been rebuilt to serve cars rather than people! The reason that transit doesn’t work is that we have created environments that can only be navigated easily in private motor vehicles. The fact that you think that micro transit will work better than fixed transit lines is because you are living in sprawl that was created to facilitate car dependant lifestyles. It is impossible to retrofit existing cities to be more people friendly without significant redesign. Mini autonomous buses or cars won’t fix horrible land use problems.

Watts
Watts
2 months ago
Reply to  Pkjb

American cities have already been rebuilt to serve cars rather than people! 

In most cases “built” rather than “rebuilt”, but yes, this may well be true.

But that doesn’t change the fact that our cities are built they way they are built, and rebuilding them now would be a herculean task that will take generations.

blumdrew
2 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Right, but the only reason that it excites the development community is because it provides utility for people who use it. Transportation investment drives development – but it does so because people get around using that transportation investment. Gas stations and drive-thrus develop along freeway exits for the same reason.

If the rail alignment never happens, the development also doesn’t really happen. Speculation and land banking still happens based on plans, but it’s unlikely that any large-scale development would happen without the actual rail alignment being built. Land speculators may still profit off this, but not as much as they would if it’s actually built.

Because again, the only reason it makes sense to speculate on this land is because of expected future value – that is only fully realized if the transportation investment actually comes. Land speculators in Atchinson, Kansas hoping for the transcontinental railroad to come to town made far less money than land speculators in Omaha, Nebraska. Developers made far more money in New York City because of the subway construction than they did in Cincinnati. Gas stations and hotels along former highway alignments like Route 66 lost out to well-connected developers and speculators who built at new freeway exits. Some of these people likely still became very wealthy, and did fine for themselves. But not as well as their counterparts who saw massive transportation investments.

Robert Wallis
Robert Wallis
2 months ago
Reply to  Pkjb

The real Step one is hire a giant consulting firm (HRD for Rose Quarter and WSP for IBR) to get the money flowing to the decision makers and PR firms who tell people like this WSDOT engineer what to say.

Let's Active
Let's Active
2 months ago
Reply to  Robert Wallis

*HDR for RQ

Lenny Anderson
Lenny Anderson
2 months ago

The irony in all this is that modest tolls applied today would reduce traffic volumes such that no new bridge would be needed. Toll income could go to seismic retrofits and construction of an arterial bridge for local traffic, light-rail and bike-ped trips.
see Joe Cortright’s City Observatory for more on toll impacts: The Week Observed, December 8, 2023 | City Observatory

Watts
Watts
2 months ago
Reply to  Lenny Anderson

“modest tolls applied today would reduce traffic volumes such that no new bridge would be needed”

This hypothesis has not been tested. It may be true, but it may also turn out that people still need to get to work even if it costs more.

Ross Williams
Ross Williams
2 months ago
Reply to  Watts

It has been tested to some extent, just not in Portland. There are plenty of examples of successfully using pricing to regulate traffic volumes. And yes, some people do pay the toll regardless of the price. But others don’t.

Watts
Watts
2 months ago
Reply to  Ross Williams

It certainly seems logical to conclude that increasing the price would reduce the demand, but there is already a high cost to traveling across the Columbia during rush hour, and people do it anyway. My untested hypothesis is that most people who don’t have to to cross then don’t do it already, and that peak hour travel would be only modestly reduced unless tolls are very high.

The question is not whether any reduction would happen, but whether it would be enough to remove the “need” for a more capacious bridge.

That is the part that is unknown.

Ross Williams
Ross Williams
2 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Let’s be clear, the people suffering from congestion are the people creating it. It’s a perfect market. If you lower the price people have to pay in the form of congestion then traffic will increase until the cost from congestion is back in balance with the benefit. 

It’s easy enough to test what happens, just toll the existing bridge.

Watts
Watts
2 months ago
Reply to  Ross Williams

It’s easy enough to test what happens, just toll the existing bridge.

I agree. We just don’t know what the effects will be until we try. I’d start today if it were up to me (and if the tolling revenue weren’t used to pay for an expanded CRC, as is currently planned).